Dr. Klaus Karbe - AGPF: Rehabilitation ... American Experiences, 1981 Page 105


Interview of June 12, 1978 in Valhalla, N.Y.

Dr. George Swope is a psychologist and a professor at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, N.Y., as well as a clergyman of a Protestant church. His daughter belonged to the Moon sect for a time. Dr. Swope directed a rehabilitation center in New Hampshire for about 9 months.

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My name is Dr. Swope, and I have been asked to talk about the rehabilitation of young people who have come out of the Unification Church (UC) or any other sects.

Rehabilitation Center

For about 9 months I operated a rehabilitation center in New England. During this time I aided 39 young people, 35 of which have not reverted, to go back home or to college, to be integrated into working society and to reassume a normal life. Four of them went back to the sect. One of those had needed psychiatric help both before he had gone into the sect and after he re-entered the sect. The expenses for that were covered by his parents, not by the sect. In my opinion, deprogramming and rehabilitation cannot be successful if a necessity for psychiatric treatment exists. In that case, the psychiatric problem must be solved first. 1)

About those who went back to the sect

The second young person who went back to the sect, a girl, had problems of the social variety before she had joined the UC, and which we treat to a certain degree in the rehabilitation center. Since she had established a very good relationship with us, she often came to visit us in New Hampshire where we could give her new strength over the course of her first 6 months after she was back home and was going to college. Then one day she decided, on her own, to take a 2 day course at the UC in order to listen to them once more and compare what was said there to our arguments. She did not believe there was any possibility of thought being controlled by outside sources or of reforming the thought process, she did not believe that brainwashing actually existed there.

1) There is a difference of opinion here. Joe Alexander, Sr. is if the view that, without deprogramming, any psychiatric treatment is in vain.

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Her friend, who knew about it, said that he had spoken with her on the telephone for 3 consecutive nights and that he could tell the difference in her voice. The sect managed to snare her again. She did not return home.

Another girl who reverted belonged to a different sect. She also needed psychiatric treatment. She was living under great pressure with her family, who did not understand much about psychiatric assistance. She came from a family with a lower level of education. The girl lived for several months outside of the sect again, and had minor jobs. At one of these work places, there was a dispute over which she got excited, then she finally went back to the sect.

The fourth case which I know of had to do with a girl that felt attracted to the sect from the ground up and had a friend in the sect. From our rehabilitation center, she went on to another center, and stayed away from the sect for 8 weeks. Then she went back home for one or two weeks and told her family that she wanted to go back to the sect to get her friend out. Whether this was her real reason or whether she was using it as a pretext to rejoin the sect, nobody knows. In any case she returned to get her friend back, but instead of that, her friend managed to get her back into the sect.

Everybody else managed the return to a normal life. Some of them told me later that, without the rehabilitation center, they would have gone back to the sect and that deprogramming alone would not have been adequate. Some of them found deprogramming itself as inadequate or even inappropriate, some even developed (despite the success of the deprogramming) -

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a regular aversion for it. But when they came to the rehabilitation center, where the relations between boys and girls were running their normal course again, they soon recognized that sexuality is not demonic, but is instead a normal interaction between the sexes, and that this stabilizes their dealings with the opposite gender and contributes to cooperation in an amicable atmosphere.

Deprogramming and Rehabilitation

One of the weak points of deprogramming alone is that it presents a confrontation of the transfer out of the warm atmosphere in the sect (even if this love is only faked, it spreads a warm atmosphere) into the world of deprogramming. The young people are forced to look at the facts in front of them.

What motivates the deprogramming is the love from the side of the parents. Several of the deprogrammers also shown genuine interest, but the effect of the process is by no means cozy for the young person. If the young people go back home immediately after deprogramming, then both they and the parents will be stressed, which is not a desirable situation in any case. Rehabilitation is so important for that reason. It is a way station on the road back to normal life. Here they find understanding and affection; they are not alone with their parents, but can be in a group of 8 or 12 young people, in whose company they can recuperate by swimming, skiing, playing ping-pong or pursuing other pastimes. Along with that goes a scrutinizing of their current situation; the study of the Bible, if they are from a religiously grounded sect, and the study of psychological components needed to understand the process of thought control.

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Rehabilitation and Religiosity

The home we ran was an experiment. I did indeed have several theories, but fumbled through with the practical experience which I had. I had no concept of how many young people of Protestant, Catholic or Jewish education would come to me. I had the feeling that I had to help the parents no matter what religion they belonged to, that I would not interfere in any way in the religious convictions of the family, but that I should lead the young people back to their families and, with them, their creed, be it atheism, agnosticism or whatever. The parents should not be able to say that I had replaced one religious cult with another. I felt like I owed them that. Despite that I believe that that contains a weak point, because many of the young people who joined a sect had not enjoyed any kind of religious education. They were Catholic, Jewish, Protestant or agnostic in name only, but had no kind of religious background. Perhaps God had turned into reality for the first time for them in the sect; regardless of how distorted the picture of God had been there, for them it was real. Getting them out of the sect, then, tore them away from their first essential experience with God. They were returning to a vacuum. I am sure that many of the youths who go back do so for that reason. They had a perception of God which they were not able to develop in the hard, gruesome, competitive world outside the sect.

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About one and a half years ago, I spoke with a rabbi in the Baltimore area who told me that he wanted to establish a rehabilitation center there, primarily for a young Jewish person. I thought that was a good idea because it was possible that this young Jewish person had never really gotten to know the fundamentals of the Jewish teachings. If the essentials of the Jewish faith would have been presented to him by this rabbi and others as part of the rehabilitation program, then this, in my opinion, would have a tendency to stabilize his personality. He would get out of the sect's concept of God and go back into the religious world of his family without falling into a vacuum. I think that the lack of religious components presents a weak point in rehabilitation for us in the United States. I am a Protestant clergyman, teacher of psychology and sociology, and have a counselling function here at college. My religious instinct says that I should try to bring people to God. If they don't like God, then that is up to them. At least I will have interpreted God for them. In the rehabilitation center, though, I was torn between being honest with the parents and being honest with myself; it was an unbearable situation. So we studied the Bible together, and took several passages from there which had been falsely represented by the sect. There are interpretations of passages in the Bible on which sincerely religious people do not agree. However, that is not a deliberate falsification of the biblical passages. Inside the sect, however, Bible passages are intentionally taken out of context to give them their own interpretation - which no learned person, no matter what his stand point might be, would accept - for the purpose of putting young people under their control. Because of this, I work primarily with the Bible in order to contradict the sect's falsified interpretations.

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But how should I go about getting a positive interpretation of this contradiction? If, for instance, I read something from the book of Isiah about the Messiah, then I'm looking at the Christian understanding of Jesus; orthodox Jews interpret it as saying that someone by the name of Messiah will come, and reformed Jews say that that is not the truth, but that the Messiah's Israel is meant. How should I behave in such a matter? I think there should be a Christian rehabilitation center which does not just contradict false interpretations, but offers the young people something on the other hand which they can accept or reject, which is not forced, but offered to them; this is what the Christian belief says; this is what I believe. The young people can then accept a positive offer and not fall into a vacuum. In my opinion, a Christian rehabilitation center should be identified as one, so that Jewish or atheistic parents who want to bring their children there will know exactly what this offer entails, even if nothing is forced on anyone. In my opinion, there should be Catholic, Protestant and Jewish rehabilitation centers, so that each can enthusiastically present God according to their own beliefs.

I can only tell my wards what the Christian Church teaches. Whether they believe it or push it aside, they should at least know how the Church teachings appear. Of course, no kind of enthusiasm can come about this way, and I often reflect on how superficial an effect I am basically having in comparison to the sects, which often say "Father says ..." or "the leader says ..." or "according to God." So I stay with the simple offer of the Christian teachings because I don't feel obligated to the many beliefs of the parents, and also because some - not all - of the young people who come out of a sect don't want to have anything more to do with religion.

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They believe, as one of them said to me, "Moon pulled a fast one on me by convincing me he was the Messiah; how can I know that the Pope, the Rabbi or the Pastor is not doing the same thing? I don't want anything more to do with organized religion." From my experience, most of the young people who come out of sects stay away from their church or synagogue for quite a while. I know fewer and fewer who go right back to their church after leaving the sect. Nevertheless, they had a deep religious conviction, without exception, right from the start. The sect means only the interruption of their life style, and after their departure they go back to their beliefs again. To my way of thinking, there should be rehabilitation centers in which prayer could serve as a major component. At our center, prayers are said at meal time. I have the vague suspicion that the young woman who says the prayer is embarrassed despite her deep religiosity; she does not know whether she should pray because of the varying religious backgrounds of the youth.

There should also be an organized religious class with theological studies in the rehabilitation center. Several young people were bored because they joined the sect not for religious reasons, not for an intellectual challenge, but just because of the apparently warm, cordial atmosphere of the group. They were not in the least bit interested in religion. For the others, though, there should be organized religious instruction, since that will perhaps be their only chance in which they can take part in organized religious studies.

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A young, very idealistic business woman, a devout Christian, about 25 years old, was in charge of the center. She was very energetic and enthusiastic and wanted to work with me because she believed that was what God expected of her. She did good work. In some respects, she was not as experienced as some of the young people, and she had to put on an air of authority for them if she wanted to act as director of the center. There is a problem in that. If possible, it should always be an adult, a figure of authority, not a dictatorial person. Some of the young people told me that they looked forward to the weekends, when I was there to be an authority figure, and they did not really know what they were supposed to do during the week. But I think that the authority figure should have an assistant by his side so that not only the authority figure, but a person of the same age group should be available for care.

When I started doing work for the rehabilitation center, I was under pressure. I saw a great need which nobody was filling, so I began to do something about it. I would rather have waited until I retired, so that I could constantly be with the young people. So my work concentrated around the weekends. That was very strenuous for me. We worked from about 9 a.m. to noon, then went to lunch, and then worked after that for about one or two hours. They we'd go swimming or pursue some other leisurely activity, but worked together again in the evening. If somebody wanted to go to church on Sunday, I tried to go with them to the Catholic or Protestant service. There was no Jewish Synagogue in the vicinity. If one of the young people would have asked me, though, then I would have driven the 30 miles to the nearest synagogue.

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I assume that going to church is part of one's education, that perhaps it is good for a Protestant to go to a Catholic service and vice versa. So I took them to various services, and that turned out well, for the most part. Occasionally I could also see, though, how some of the young people felt unsteady on their feet when they sang hymns which they knew from the sect; when, for instance, they heard, "that is my Father" and they would think of Father Moon and not of God the Father. There were also some tunes to which sects had given new words. These kind of things can temporarily put them back into the sect way of thinking, and I had trouble freeing them from that again. Because of that, we restricted our trips to church after a certain amount of time. Some Sundays I organized a service, myself, in the building. Together with several of my counselors, who were also involved in working with young sect adherents, I sought out hymns which did not have any kind of connection with the melodies or words of the sect. I would have Bible passages read which did not touch on the sect's teachings, or say prayers which were not similar to the sect prayers. This cost us quite a bit of effort, but gave much joy to some of the young people. We sat effortlessly together in the living room. My wife played the piano, we sang the songs, and then I spoke to them. I have the belief that the study of the Bible is very important. Of further importance is the psychology of thought reform. The young people must be told how they can fall into the sects' clutches. After the rehabilitation center closed, I read books which I wished I had read earlier, because regardless of how much one knows, there is always more which one should know. I had a collection of books at the center.

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Some of the young people looked through the books and read them, others did not. In my opinion, though, it is very important to make it clear to the young people how they got into the sect and how the sect works so that they can maintain control. The psychological aspects are very important for that.

We went through chapter 22 of the book by Lifton on "Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism" in detail. Besides that, the book "Coercive Persuasion" is a good paper on the theme of thought control, also in communist China. Dr. Clark gave me the name of a book which, in his opinion, is the best that he ever read, "Tyranny of Groups" by Malcolm Toronto, a Canadian.

There should be not only psychological studies on thought control organized, but also on families. Besides that there should also be recreation, as I have mentioned already. Once a week, a woman who owns a crafts shop and is very manually gifted comes to us and gets the young people involved in this area. This broadens their abilities and some of them have fun developing their dexterity in this area. I also think that handicraft is important. So we have intellectual, craftsmanship and recreation programs.

One of the areas which I think is important and would have taken up, but which I did not have enough time for, was familial expectations. I think that some young people expect too much of their parents. They don't recognize that their parents are only people. Many of the young people probably believe that their parents were born 30 years old; they forget that their parents were also once confronted with the same problems of growing up which their sons and daughters have. Their parents are looking for answers, but even they don't have a solution for everything. It is important to recognize this fact.

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Another point which we don't deal with, but which I nevertheless regard as essential for a successful rehabilitation, is discussion with parents. I have the opinion that parents who expect their children to stay at the center should also have to participate in a weekly conference. If we had the whole week to spend time with the young people, then we could dedicate the weekend to parent conferences. This would also allow for parents who had a long way to drive to visit. If they wanted to rehabilitate their children, then they would also have to get familiar with the whole complex. It is possible that even well-meaning and considerate parents unconsciously do or say things which the child sees from another perspective, with different eyes, and interprets them completely differently from what the parents meant. For this reason I advocate meetings with parents. All parents whose children have joined sects could take part in these conferences, regardless of whether their children went to rehabilitation centers or not; this would include parents whose children have not been home for two or three years, and who really have no intention of getting them out of the sect. Parents whose children have come home of their own accord could attend. Some of the young people leave the sect on their own decision, but there are not many who are in the position to do that.

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Some have the opinion that it is very important in the rehabilitation process for the young people to be able to do whatever they want to. I do not share this view any more than I do a child being able to do anything he pleases at home. I believe that there is a happy medium between authority and casual training. This medium must be determined according to the question of what is best. What I can achieve in my personal style cannot, perhaps, be achieved by another. The personalities in question also come into play. Perhaps I can bring them to work with the group whereas another could not do that, but could, instead, excel in another area where I did not. In my opinion, though, one still has to follow definite lines.

I have heard criticism about individual rehabilitation programs which were not adequately organized. The young people could do whatever they wanted to, and when they left the rehabilitation center after a month, they had lied in the sun and played table tennis, but had not learned anything there. For this reason, I recommend organized programs. When one of the young people rebels against this organization, then one must change the organization accordingly. If, after several rainy days, for example, the sun comes back out, and if psychological studies are scheduled on the program, it is still possible to give the young people a break to go swimming or similarly engage themselves. We offer them alternatives to the learning programs, and go, for instance, for a picnic in the mountains where they can have contact with the public. If we had kept them back against their will, though, the possibility would have existed that

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they would have asked these people for help and told them that they had been kidnapped and were being held against their will. Despite that, such outings have to be maintained within certain limits. In the city, for instance, they could see a Moonie collecting money, and backslide just from seeing that. Surely there is no possibility of running into Moonies on a picnic to the mountains, so they won't get pulled back into that while they are there. Contact with other people, with the general public, is necessary, but not in the vicinity of the major areas where they could see old friends again.

I am against use of the telephone during the rehabilitation phase. I permit the parents to do that, but believe that even the parents should call up only infrequently. We limit the parents to one call weekly, but by doing that we keep up people's spirits. There are cases where the young people would want to go home, but the parents are not in the position to offer them the conditions they want, where, for example, both parents are working and the young person would be left alone at home. So long as the parents wouldn't call up, everything would be fine, but when they did call, the young people would occasionally resist them. The parents would argue with them over the telephone, sometimes there would be a fight, at which point the young people would interrupt the conversation and hang up the phone, and it would be more difficult than before to get them to go back home. Therefore I think one weekly discussion between the young people and their parents is adequate, whereby I would perhaps go so far as to give the parents a list of topics which could be discussed without difficulty and point out things to them which should be avoided.

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We do not allow parents to stay with their children in the rehabilitation building, although we did make an exception in the case of a boy who tried to climb out the window and needed more personal attention; his mother and brother stayed with us for one or two weeks. There are places for parents to stay around the center. However, we do not recommend visits from the parents. A few times, parents came to us and wanted to bring their children out to eat. However, of all times to pick, that would be the time that we had planned to do something which the young person himself might have suggested and which we could not let him do because his parents wanted to bring him out, or we'd get into a big discussion and neglect the young person. Because of that, I believe that the parents should just bring their children to us, and then come back to pick them up after a month or 6 weeks. They should not interfere with the rehabilitation process.

Other things which I regard as helpful are the following:

As a rule, four weeks of rehabilitation is cutting it pretty short. If the young people want to go home after four weeks, we tell them that they can come back to us if they have a need to do that after one or two weeks of living with their parents. We've taken a few on staff as assistants. We don't pay them, but give them a place to sleep and food. The parents don't pay us for that. We make it clear that we are no longer looking after these young people, that they have come back of their own free will. That was a big help for some of them. They came back for one or two weeks, sometimes a month.

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At that time, they were completely free, they could have walked out the door at any time and have gone back to the sect. They would get involved with the discussions or help in the preparations for a picnic. They were accepted by our staff in their position as assistants.

At that time we were going with our young people to see a psychiatric social worker, who would speak to us once a week and bring them, if necessary, to a psychiatrist. She had a psychiatrist who would go to her house and, so far as I know, with whom she had a working agreement.

Another thing was that most of the people in sects neither smoked not drank alcohol. Therefore, smoking and drinking were also prohibited at our place. Neither were there vices, swearing or cursing, which were also prohibited in the sects. We wanted them to have the feeling that, after leaving the sect, they were not in a community which was in any way morally inferior. If a young man later left us and went home, then it was his own business if he wanted to drink. We had a few habitual smokers among the young people who we let smoke on the patio. But for health reasons, we did not permit smoking in the house. Despite that these young people still had a negative influence on the others in the group. Therefore I came to the conclusion that after a year of complete abstinence in the sect, they could get by for another four weeks without smoking or drinking. What they wanted to do afterwards on the outside was left up to them.

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My idea of sexuality inside the rehabilitation center was as follows: boys and girls sat down to eat together. But they did not go to bed together nor did they fondle each other. However, they did go swimming together, which is seen as a sin in the sect, in spite of swimming suits. They would meet with each other and play and joke together. One of the young men told me once that he saw being able to build a normal relationship with a girl again as being the greatest help he received in the center. So there was sexuality in the sense that both sexes got together on a normal basis.

As concerns the financial side of things, at the beginning we tried to keep up with the costs, but they ate up more than we had anticipated. We had to pay the young people who looked after and supervised our wards; we arranged picnics, which brought about gasoline expenses, etc. We started with $1,000, then went up to $1,200, and even had to go up to maybe $1,500.

I would welcome enough money coming from a foundation to bring a group of people together for a three-day study conference. It would be divided into four categories: psychology (psychiatrists and psychologists), sociologists, attorneys and clergymen. They should bring light to bear on the theoretical standpoints on a more or less scientific basis. The attorneys could bring up considerations as to how parents could be defended and as to how laws could be solidified for the defense of parents and rehabilitation centers. They would clear up the legal side.

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They would look at the issues in respect to religious freedom and go over all the possible aspects. For that you would need academics, and not just church pastors. Furthermore, one should have psychiatrists who could shed light on the matter from the psychiatric standpoint, as well as sociologists who could analyze the social pressures which drive young people into the arms of the sects.

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Joe Alexander, Sr., together with his wife, Esther, were the founder and director of the Freedom of Thought Foundation in Tucson, Arizona, a rehabilitation center for former members of destructive cults.

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In deprogramming, the subject person should be in an environment which is as close to that of home as possible. But if that is not possible, then we in the States bring the young adults to a motel room. The counsellor, deprogrammer, debriefer or whatever terminology you prefer, should be with the young adult in a room, but separate from the family. That makes him more open to the person who is speaking to him. But the parents should be in the vicinity. It is very important for the so-called deprogrammer to get to know the young person well and arrange it so that he feels amenable and gives him reassurances that nobody will bother him, that he will have 8 - 10 hours of sleep, that he will have any food he wants and as often as he wants.

Then you begin with a key question, e.g., "What is your relationship to God?" Whatever I get for an answer tells me a whole lot already. Many young people believe something like Sun Myung Moon is Jesus Christ, the Lord of the 2nd Coming, and that he is here in order to finish the work which Jesus did not take care of. And then we begin with the doctrine of the specific cult, like the Unification Church or Hare Krishna. We have about 5,000 cults in the USA with well over 3 million members between the ages of 18 and 28. The deprogrammer must be familiar with that particular cult and know more about it than the person involved. That is very important. You have to know what you are talking about. One can absolutely not say anything wrong. It is a very serious situation; you have to tell the truth. I am successful, I believe, because I come across as a father figure to the individual.

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In every meeting I use the Bible. I always carry a Bible in my briefcase. I was born Catholic. As a Catholic, you don't get a great deal of familiarity with the Bible. After I got involved with my nephew who had gotten into a cult 10 years before then, I studied the Bible many times. In discussion I quote Bible verses. One of them is always John 14,6:

"I am the way and the truth and the life; nobody comes to the Father lest it be through me." Through Jesus, not through Moon! Not through Moses David Berg! Not through Guru Maharaji Ji! I show the person involved where the divine principles have holes and mistakes. Then I discuss that with the young person. I also quote Matthew 24, 24: "Many false prophets will come and also pretend to be the Chosen One." I make intensive use of the Bible. Even in the east Asian cults like the Hare Krishna, Divine Light Mission, I use the Bible. The Guru of the DLM, Maharaji Ji, says,

"I am God!" It is also important that the deprogrammer, when possible, have a former member of the concerned group with him. The Bible-oriented cults are all very similar, therefore it is enough for the second man to be from a similar, Bible-oriented group. With the Bible-oriented cults it is always the same. They take a certain verse out of context and turn it around to give it another meaning. That is exactly what their special messiah does.


One must be very patient and deal with those involved intelligently. Anybody who is interested in deprogramming should do it under observation for at least one year. It is a very serious business which you should not take lightly. Right after the meeting is done, the young person should be put in a home where young people in rehabilitation are around him. Rehabilitation means bringing the person back to reality.

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These are young, idealistic personalities, and the current cult doctrines do not develop effectiveness in reality. Idealism is good, but realism is also something which we have to envision. In the rehabilitation center, the young people should be watched very closely. After breakfast, we spend an hour in discussion with all members of the center. That is very important for the newly arrived member, to get in communication with the older members who have already been in the center a while. He can meet former members there from the same cult or from similar cults. These cults are all very similar in their structure. They all have a messiah or a central figure. They are all self-proclaimed messiahs. They are interested in three things: money, power and fame. They are all on an ego trip. This is what I have found out about the leaders. Charles Manson, for instance, called himself Jesus Christ, Brother Juhus called himself Jesus Christ and called his wife, Joanna, the Holy Spirit. I am constantly amazed at how such excellent, young and intelligent people could be deceived by these so-called messiahs.

After the discussion, in the morning and in early afternoon, the young people go swimming, exercising, riding, walking, all under the supervision of older members. It is very important that the new members, after they have been in the rehabilitation center a few days, go shopping. They buy themselves new clothes. They have very little, but they want to get rid of it because it reminds them of the clothes from the cult. You have to bring it to their attention that they have to break all connections to the cult.

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They are supposed to be back in the rehabilitation center one hour before supper, usually at 6 p.m. Everybody makes it a point to eat supper together. We have Catholics, Jews and Protestants. My wife has prayer cards with words from the Bible written on them. They are words which do not relate to any particular religion. Everybody gets a card from which he reads. They like that a lot. If somebody does not want to read, he doesn't have to. After supper, some of them go into the library. We have every kind of reading material, including anti-cult material, from which they can find out how they could have fallen for the cult. They can gain knowledge about how to shape their education, their work and their life-style. Rehabilitation is very important and very necessary, it is a "must." I would like to emphasize that. I would not want to deprogram anybody who can not be rehabilitated.

My wife and I founded a rehabilitation center with people whom I have deprogrammed. I brought them into my home, Ohio at the time. My wife is very gifted in being able to rehabilitate young people. Often she would sit the whole night through talking with the young people. The next morning she would often still be sitting with a young man or a girl in the kitchen or in the dining room, and I would see immediately, when I came down, that they had not been to bed. That is too strenuous and cannot be kept up in the long term. Sometimes it has to do with situations in which others could have also taken part. But, as has been said, talking is very important.

The first center founded in the USA was the "Freedom of Thought Foundation" in Tucson. I was the president and my wife, along with Gary Scharff, were the directors. After several years the sources of money were depleted, there were law suits and it became too strenuous for my wife. She was physically exhausted, and the doctor advised her to retire. We talked another group into taking over the rehabilitation center. Today it is led by a family by the name of Hafflinger, but it has a different name.

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The name "Freedom of Thought Foundation" is still open for us in the event that we start up something new. There is another rehab center in Minneapolis, one was founded in Ohio and there will be another in Iowa. We need many rehab centers because we have many cults.

You have a rehab center over there which - as I understand it - is financed by the Catholic Church. That is a beginning. You should get some administrators for it. I know it is difficult to find good people. One has to have a "set of rules" by which they can be dealt with. It is important for a young person to know who has control and what the conditions are under which he can be told what is expected of him. If he wants to sleep until Monday, 10 or 12 hours - good! But supper is at such and such a time, and if he is not there, then he has to know that he is going to have to help himself. It is good to let the individual know what the program is. I repeat, my wife is the real expert in questions of rehabilitation.

As to the question of religious instruction in the rehab center: one has to keep in mind that there are people from all kinds of religions in the center. We do not try to push our religious convictions on Protestant or Jewish members at the center. But we always have God in mind. Anybody can get involved according to his own understanding.

In deprogramming, we discuss many, many things, which also include personal problems. The most important thing in deprogramming is to motivate them to think again, to lift them up to an intelligent, thinking level, because they have been trained not to think, not to ask. In the cult it was Satan who inspired critical thinking.

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But that is a total lie. God, not Satan, has given us the ability to think. In the cult, feeling and laughter are suppressed. The young people only do exactly what they are told.

Once more, I want to emphasize that fact that you must try, in your own way, to make contact with the young people to get them to think. You ask questions, mention certain things which have happened to the young people, and that's how you get them to think. It does not happen in one hour. I have done it in four or five hours. On the average it lasts from two to three days. For others I have needed six days. You use different techniques of asking, various ways of approach, including reading material. It is rather time-consuming. But you can still see a change as the day goes by. Most of the time I read one or another of the documents out loud, and then we discuss what I have read.

When I deprogram, I also get emotionally involved. You must do that. You have to very seriously believe with the young person, not just sit there and read, check off papers and repeat. You have to be emotionally engaged, deep down inside. It could be that this is the secret, the key to success in deprogramming.

It is absolutely necessary that the person being deprogrammed not come into contact with the cult or with cult members. No telephone contact! Even after he has "snapped." We suggest no connection to the cult, because that can bring about what we call "floating." As to the question of whether latent predisposition to mental illness could be activated by membership in a cult, even if no pathological symptoms could be observed upon joining: suicidal thoughts can appear in completely healthy people and they can suffer nervous breakdowns, especially in the following situation:

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When the person realizes that he has been leading a completely different life-style than previously, before joining the cult, and he asks himself whether his family could have been right to demand that he leave the cult, but was told in the cult, "When you turn your back on God, you will die! and was held back by fear and guilt techniques, then this causes a confrontation in the head of the person. It is not regarded as mental illness, as we know it, but the public believe that the person is mentally ill and sends him to a psychiatric clinic. I have deprogrammed different people in psychiatric clinics throughout the States, and they're doing well today. The clinics can provide nothing but prescription treatment, but that does not bring about improvement [for this condition].

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Interview of May 30, 1978 - Phoenix, Arizona

Michael Trauscht is an attorney. He was a founding member of the Freedom of Thought Foundation in Tucson, Arizona, and was able to bring about limited conservatorship in the custody courts of several U.S. states.

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Thought Control and Conservatorship

In regards to former sect members I have, in the past, given sworn testimony about the thought control which is used in sects, about the deceptive methods used in the recruitment of youth and during the process of thought control, as well as about the possibilities and techniques applied in brainwashing. The parents can verify for the judge that the personality changes were brought about subsequent to thought control. They can also report on the financial exploitation and how resources were handed over to the sect leaders for their own personal enrichment. It has always proved advantageous to have a psychiatrist or psychologist testify who has had the opportunity to check out the young person involved and who could report on the effects of thought control. It is customary in the United States, when custody has been applied for, to review whether the subject person is the victim of a clever con artist, whether he is being financially exploited and whether he is in the position to properly care for himself physically and financially. In such a case, the court has the option to grant a temporary or final conservatorship if proof has been presented. That is probably the most customary review throughout the country. It also corresponds to the review methods in California, Arizona, and most of the other states.

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The legislation proposed in Vermont principally deals with the implementation of a conservatorship program which is to be applied in sect-like situations, and which essentially is based on the old California statute. It was introduced for the assistance of sect victims who have been subjected to brainwashing.*

About one and a half years ago, I founded the "Freedom of Thought Foundation" Rehabilitation Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, and become one of the directors.


The function of rehabilitation for sect members was laid out so as to give youth a chance to get re-oriented after deprogramming. Through experience we have learned that, after deprogramming, youth often fall into a phase of insecurity, that they "float," repeatedly backslide into thought control and come out of it again. The young people themselves have no awareness of this process.

We recognize that it is important to offer the youth an environment in which they have contact with other young people from the United States who have once belonged to a sect, have been deprogrammed, and who recognize the floating state. They are able to explain to each individual person what sensations appear in conjunction with floating. Experience has shown us that the youth can get over it better if they can talk about it with someone who has personally lived through and withstood this phenomenon.

*The proposed legislation did not pass in the assembly of the U.S. state of Vermont.

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So we founded the "Freedom of Thought Foundation" with private donations from all over the country. We maintain a farm with a vacation atmosphere which is open to youth after deprogramming where they have the chance to get together and talk with other young people from all over the country, and where they can engage in sports and other physical activities. Inside the sect there is hardly any occasion for sports or physical training. The staff of the rehabilitation center include former sect members who work from 4 to 6 days a week. We have Esther Alexander as an expert, and she has done very good work in the rehabilitation of these youth. The rehabilitation center is in the desert at the foot of the mountains of Tucson. It was a lot of 2 acres with a swimming pool. Books and magazines as well as diverse board games were available, a healthy, physically active environment for youth.

In my experience, rehabilitation is an essential part of deprogramming. Without rehabilitation programs, these young people would feel confused and frequently, in the blink of an eye, go back into floating or a depression. The rehabilitation center was established in order to counter this problem. My experience has shown that the floating phase lasts between 20 and 40 days. Therefore we advise youth to go into the rehabilitation center for at least 30 days, longer if desired.

One problem of "deprogramming" is the fact that, after deprogramming, the youth don't know where they belong. After two or three years of sect membership, they have broken off friendships outside the sect; connections from their former social life no longer exist.

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The rehabilitation center serves as a transit point on the path from the sect back into the reality of the environment. It offers an atmosphere in which juveniles can talk about their experiences with each other.

Criteria for a Rehabilitation Center

Basically, a rehabilitation center should be set in a peaceful, rural area, maybe a nice place in the mountains. It is also desirable to have an environment where the youth can do something outdoors, where they can hike, camp or go mountain climbing, but at the same time where there is a chance to go to the movies or make use of the other things which the city has to offer. Naturally, it is very, very important, perhaps the most important aspect overall of rehabilitation, that former sect members are employed on staff. After the youth have been deprogrammed and gotten out of the sect, they could stay perhaps three or four months longer in the rehabilitation center and temporarily work as counsellors for new people who come out of the sect. This activity helps not only the new arrivals, but also themselves. Of course, it would also be desirable to hire one or two former sect members to maintain an overview all the goings-on in the building.

The adults in the center should fulfill the function of having a calming effect upon everybody, keeping the situation under control, and giving the house a family-like atmosphere.

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The adults should be in control of certain responsibilities. It would also be of advantage to engage psychologists to help the youth with their specific, personal problems on a psychological basis. Furthermore, it would be beneficial to have a psychiatrist and general practitioner on staff who could attend to the state of the youth's health. I would strongly advise that each of the youth who are accepted into the rehabilitation center have a medical examination, if there are funds available. Quite often, these youth have picked up some illness or other physical problem which has gone unnoticed due to a lack of medical care in the sect. State of health is an important aspect of rehabilitation.

Altogether, the following components should be taken into consideration in building a rehabilitation center:

  1. It would be preferable to buy or rent a building in a rural environment where there is a chance for outdoor activity.
  2. At least initially, staff should employ former sect members who are able to deal with these adolescents.
  3. Somebody who is familiar with the problems of thought control, perhaps a young couple, should be there, be available for the youth, and oversee the entire process with a air of responsibility.
  4. Psychologists or doctors should be employed on staff, or at least be available.
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For the rehabilitation center itself, I recommend a non-compulsory type of organization in the form of program offerings. It should contain a library in which extensive information about sects and their methods of operations are available. It would also be advantageous to have projection equipment with films and documentaries; also a telephone system by which connection could be made to other youth around the country who had similar problems in the sects. We strongly advise against deprogrammed youth who are being rehabilitated having contact with sects. We have given one juvenile the opportunity to speak with whomever he wanted to speak, after he had gotten out of the sect and was in deprogramming. We encourage them to grant interviews to the media and to the public, but have always included the condition that any contact with sect members should be avoided. That is probably the only restriction which we have ever imposed on our young people.

During the first days of rehabilitation we try especially to keep a watch on the young people because of "floating." We try to always have something for them to do - athletic activities, riding, swimming, etc. Too much idleness produces depression, which then spawn feelings of guilt and later leads to a floating state, from which the youth may go back to the sect and be lost.

The greatest part of the work in the rehabilitation center is born by the youth and the staff. As far as everything else goes, we function as a normal household. We have television sets, books, magazines, films, records; we have a swimming pool and a couple of vehicles which are at the young people's disposal.

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Two or three of them can go to the movies, to golf or to go play basketball. Several are also members of gyms where they can lift weights, play pool or tennis, or participate in some other sport. That is very important. These youths need bodily activity and the freedom that goes along with it.

One important aspect, in my opinion, is the money. A rehabilitation is a very, very expensive matter, and I would suggest to you that you get 300,000 to 400,00 DM in donations or apply for it from the government in order to have enough money for construction, for personnel and for the rent or purchase of a piece of land. One cannot depend on parents alone, because many of them do not have the appropriate means. However, you can count on 1,000 DM per case from those that are in the position to pay.


The question, naturally, is what role parents should take in the rehabilitation process. We insist that at least one of the parents be at the rehabilitation center or in the vicinity for at least a few days. Our experience has shown us, though, that it is better if the parents go back home afterwards and get on with their work, since a close connection between the youth and his family frequently overwhelms him so that he feels closed in and restricted. Therefore the parents, if the youth is in agreement, should take off after a couple of days, and so grant their child more freedom and independence in the rehabilitation center than would have been possible with their presence. The best treatment for sect victims is being a part of the deprogramming of other youths, along with their involvement in presentations in the community and at schools.

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Success rate

In the two years in which we have been releasing sect members from their thought control, there have been about 75-80 people in our rehabilitation center in Tucson, Arizona. We were able to record a success rate of from 85 - 90%. About 7 of 80 youths have returned to the sect. From a social medicine viewpoint, this is a very high success rate of which we are very proud. Our experience has shown that a deprogramming lasts from between two and five days, during which time I define deprogramming, basically, as the chance to efface the strong, negative influence the sect leader has had upon the youth.

Further criteria

During the deprogramming, we give the youths access to the outside world through books, magazines, television, interviews with newspaper reporters; we give them opportunity to get in touch with their families and former friends again, which puts the isolation imposed on them by the sect in remission. Furthermore, we give them the chance to sleep in, which is something which never was permitted them in the sect. In the hotel they have the chance to choose all food and drink for themselves, and this counteracts the lack of food and poor care they had in the sect.

Further, we make information in the form of books and discussion with other former sect members available to them, and they present them with facts about the sects which are not known to sect members. We give them opportunity for an open discussion and conversation, and a critical analysis of the procedure. We encourage them to think, again, for themselves. We do not try in any way to influence their religious convictions. That is not our business, it is not the business of the parents or of an attorney. We only get involved with the methods which were applied which were used to bring about this conviction of belief, i.e., with brainwashing.

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In my opinion, a person who has been subjected to brainwashing no longer possesses the rights which were guaranteed him by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, that means the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the freedom of assembly, which, from your point of view, contains the freedom of thought. If one can assume that brainwashing exists and that a person has been subjected to brainwashing, then that person no longer has freedom of religion or free choice of religion. Therefore I firmly believe that brainwashing is not protected by the First Amendment, and that a person who has been subjected to brainwashing has lost his rights of Article 1 of our Constitution. But it is the duty of our legal system to protect the rights of all citizens, not just those of the sect leaders, but also those of the sect victims. It is our duty to help a youth tear down these negative influences of thought control with the help of conservatorship, because brainwashing is not covered under the First Amendment, and we are trying to protect these rights as well as those of a young person.


In my opinion, the American Civil Liberties Union is strongly misled in their facts about the sect process. The ACLU excludes, in advance, the possibility of the existence of brainwashing. If the parents of the sect victims or I, myself, would have spoken to the ACLU two years ago,

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and explained to them that the rights of these young sect victims were being violated, then perhaps they would have taken a different stand point in this matter today. I believe that the ACLU often takes the same side as the one who initially indicates that human rights were violated. In our case it was the sects who first asked the ACLU for help, and because of this, today they represent the view of the sects. If the parents of the sect members had turned to the ACLU first, then it would have been very possible, in my opinion, that they would be on the side of the parents of the youth in the fight against the sects.

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